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  Lancelot du Lac That Clinking Clanking Sound
Year: 1974
Director: Robert Bresson
Stars: Luc Simon, Laura Duke Condominas, Humbert Balsan, Vladimir Antolek-Oresek, Patrick Bernhard, Arthur de Montalembert, Charles Balsan, Christian Schlumberger, Joseph-Patrick Le Quidre, Jean-Paul Leperlier, Marie-Louise Buffet, Marie-Gabrielle Cartron
Genre: Drama, Historical, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Many centuries ago, the Knights of the Round Table in service of King Arthur (Vladimir Antolek-Oresek) set out to discover the Holy Grail, the goblet as used by Jesus Christ during The Last Supper before his execution and resurrection. They believed they had tracked it to Brittany, yet it proved elusive, and now split up with some of their number dead or vanished, never to be seen by their comrades ever again, the knights were forced to admit defeat and return to Arthur in Camelot, and not without much blood on their hands. Disillusioned, without the Grail to find they grow resentful and unsure of how to fill their days with anything like a sense of purpose, but Lancelot (Luc Simon) was carrying on an affair with Queen Guinevere (Laura Duke Condominas)...

Though whether he will continue to do so is what begins to obsess the other knights in an adaptation of the latter part of the Camelot legend from director Robert Bresson where it seems impossible to describe it without the use of the word "austere". Everything about his style here, and indeed in many of his other works, sternly stared down the audience almost daring them to enjoy what they were watching, so while there were a number of champions of Lancelot du Lac, there tended to be more attracted by the "masterpiece" opinion of those in the know then were unavoidably let down by a work that was stilted, grey, humourless and tedious. If you wanted to approach cinema as a flagellant looked forward to his lashing, you would likely disagree with that.

No Bresson film exactly embraced the form of acting that could be judged over the top, the last thing you would see in his efforts was scenery chewing, but here he went too far the other way, suggesting the simmering grievances brewing among the characters by keeping them as low key as possible. He didn't like to use professional actors, which contributed to the wooden quality of their performances, so if you were more used to seeing King Arthur lustily tackling life with both hands you were in the wrong place: these folks may have done so before we caught up with them, but they were well past that stage by the time the film begins, curiously with a welter of crude and gory special effects suggesting the Monty Python team had caught this.

Indeed, some cannot see Lancelot du Lac without thinking of the comedy version of the Holy Grail that happened along the following year, as visually they were similar, emphasising the grotty climate and environment, one for comedic effect and this for reasons of atmosphere and tone. Bresson went further still, presenting endless shots of his actors' feet suggesting he was a fan of Doris Wishman rather than attempting to undercut their supposed heroism by showing us their least flattering presentation, but at least it was a way of breaking up the chit chat where the cast would mumble their lines over the sound of their clanking armour, a noise that could fast become an irritant to the more aurally sensitive viewer, not to mention the same sound effect of a horse's whinny continually inserted onto the soundtrack.

The fact these knights spend all their time still wearing armour was rather pathetic anyway, as if they are clinging to their past glories and refusing to acknowledge their best days were behind them. Lancelot's certainly were, he looks twice Guinevere's age for a start (wouldn't the actor who played Gawain be a better fit for the role?), so by the point the other knights are conspiring against him and the whole society collapses in on itself because he wouldn't play the chivalrous game and stick to the rules of nobility, his fate was probably a blessed relief since he could finally get some peace. As if the futility of their existence wasn't laboured enough, there was a jousting match halfway through which was filmed in such a way as to render it as lacking in any excitement as possible, by which time most viewers would be saying, all right Robert, we get it, they're a bunch of losers. Mostly this was an endurance test, perversely drab and forbidding to an extreme, punishing the audience for wanting an adventure as much as the characters. Still better than First Knight, though. Music by Philippe Sarde.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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